For those even loosely familiar with Edward Gorey‘s particular style of macabre mastery, all pen-and-ink works by the illustrator and author are easy to identify. Frequently haunting and oftentimes delightfully absurd, Gorey’s iconography has appeared in hundreds of books—his own (like The Gashlycrumb Tinies) and by other famous writers (including HG Wells’ War of the Worlds and TS Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats)—and even graced Broadway stages. In fact, Gorey became a Tony Award-winning costume designer and Tony Award-nominated set designer for the 1977 revival of Dracula. Since his passing in 2000, The Edward Gorey Charitable Trust has thoughtfully preserved and promoted his legacy, but only this year have fans of his startling sketches been able to step into an immersive event that honors them.
In Chelsea, throughout the Hotel Eventi‘s sprawling second-floor space, “Gorey 849” was the theme of the fifth annual (excluding the year 2020) grand Hotel 849 Halloween Ball organized by creative director Evan Hungate, founder of Ariamnes Hospitality. From a skeletal installation to grainy film projection, vivid performance and even blood-red wall art, Hungate transformed rooms into Victorian and Edwardian era nightmares. It was a spectacle at times inspired by Gorey, but more often directly presenting his art.
“Every year Edward Gorey has been my starting point for inspiration,” Hungate tells us. “He’s the illustrator of over 200 books and the author of more than 100 himself. He’s my favorite artist, but I’ve never been able to do anything official with any of his images before. His foundation is careful to protect his work. They do no do events at all—they do not do Halloween events. But they’ve attended Hotel 849 before [as guests]. This year, they felt this team could be the one to bring Gorey’s work to life, to do it justice.”
Within the space, set designer Jasin Cadic installed reproductions of Gorey’s original Dracula coffin. Candles illuminated Gothic tablescapes. And costumed guests traipsed through it all. For those who attended, the Hotel 849 event was more attune to the spooky origins of Halloween, and less so to the candy-or-booze pop culture positioning today. And that’s what made it spectacular.
Images courtesy of Mordecai Nuccio